Flushable Wipes May Not Be Flushable

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No wipes in the pipes! Even if they're labeled flushable, experts complain they're clogging up our sewers.

If it didn’t come out of you or off a roll of toilet paper, don’t flush it.

That’s the advice of public works managers, who are tired of disposable wipes clogging sewer lines and equipment, USA Today says. Companies such as Cottonelle and Charmin (plus a host of generic brands) have bathroom wipe products that many people flush without a thought, and it’s causing trouble.

“Consumers are being told by the packaging that these things are flushable,” Cynthia Finley, a director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, told the paper. But many don’t dissolve very well.

A Consumer Reports test of several “flushable” wipes found they didn’t break down after half an hour, the paper says. Toilet paper disintegrates in just 8 seconds.

And those are just the ones that are labeled as flushable. People don’t always look for that designation, and it’s not always there — many flush any kind of wipe, including baby wipes and hard-surface wipes that aren’t meant to swirl around the bowl. It all contributes to expensive-to-fix clogging.

USA Today mentioned several cities struggling with the issue, including these:

  • The city of Sauk Centre, Minn. had to hire someone to vacuum out a truckload of cloth material this spring.
  • In Raleigh, N.C., the most common sources of sewer overflows and backups are rags.
  • Boise, Idaho took “minor enforcement action” against a medical clinic that seemed to be flushing “towel-like” material.

Besides the risk of your own clogged pipes and plumbing bills, wipes can push up maintenance and repair costs for cities. That could potentially be passed on to you in the form of fewer services or higher taxes.

Stacy Johnson

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